GoogleEarth Feed

CommunityWalk Site for Islamabad Earthquake

Communitywalk_siteCommunityWalk I have set up a CommunityWalk site for the Islamabad Earthquake that I believe is editable by web visitors. I have put on it all the large quakes in the past 24 hours plus photos of the building collapse in Islamabad.

A is Islamabad; 8 is the epicenter of a 6.3 aftershock; 9 is the epicenter of the 7.6 quake.

Let me know if you are able to add information ( or make a comment).

WARNING: Community Walk crashes Safari.

Islamabad Earthquake

I was up for a few minutes in the night checking my email, and I see that there has been a huge earthquake in Pakistan and India followed by some aftershocks.

08-OCT-2005 05:26:05    34.71   73.11   5.6     10.0    PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 05:19:48    34.75   73.14   5.6     10.0    PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 05:08:42    34.71   73.35   5.4     10.0    PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 04:26:12    34.82   73.13   5.9     10.0    PAKISTAN
08-OCT-2005 03:50:38    34.43   73.54   7.6     10.0    PAKISTAN

IslamabadearthquakeThere's some system called Wilbur through which data sets from specific seismic monitoring stations can be requested. A Google Earth overlay of the site of the quake is available, though I don't know what it entails.

I'm not sure what can be done with this data, but something can probably be done with it that is useful to someone, given that this is taking place in a place without much infrastructure and building codes.

Someone who writes a blog called ARMY ENGINEER'S BLOG who is in Islamabad reports:

All - just a quick post to let you know I am fine - this was an experience I surely don't wish to repeat!

We have had about 4 discernable aftershocks and a multi-story apartment building about a mile from our home has collapsed - as I write this helicopters are periodically passing overhead and ambulances are ferrying injured to hospitals; we've no idea how many injured or deceased.

A blogger in Kabul, Afghanistan reports feeling the quake.

UPDATE: Flickr user mbukhari_prm who lives in Islamabad has photos of the collapsed building that is the same one that's in the photo I saw in the NYT when I first saw the report of the earthquake.


About this photo, he writes:

Today 8 October 2005, at 8:50 a.m. Islamabad was hit by the most severe earthquake in the History of Pakistan - (on reachter scale it was 7.6). The earthquake played a havoc in Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir, NWFP and most of the Punjab.

The above photo shows the Magala Towers in F-10/4 Islmabad which collapsed and about 80 flats were demoslished as a result. Since it was the morning time, most of the the people were in their flats, and even at the time, this photo was taken, were under the debris. Police and Army teams were trying to rescue them.

The street address of the building is 10th Avenue, F-10 Markaz, Islamabad, Pakistan, as best I can determine.

Mid-Day in India reports:

Heavy casualties were feared in Islamabad as two blocks of an upmarket 19-storey 'Margala Towers' apartment building collapsed like a pack of cards turning into a heap of concrete and twisted steel.

The state-run PTV said that over 200 people were trapped under the debris. Many of them were alive and their desperate pleas for help could be heard. Army has been pressed to carry out the rescue operation and at least 10 survivors have been rescued so far.

Twentyfive people, including a judge, were killed when a court building collapsed in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), following the quake, TV networks quoting officials reported.

In North West Frontier Province (NWFP), nine persons were killed in Mansehra area after some houses collapsed following the quake, media reports here said, adding one child was killed and six injured in a wall collapse of a school building in Rawalpindi.

UPDATE (7:11 AM, CST) Here is the new MSNBC headline:


There are other mentions of buried or flattened villages in other news stories. I was curious why no place names were given. Here is an interesting passage that addresses that point:

Pakistani army officials who flew over quake-hit areas reported seeing hundreds of flattened homes in northern villages, a government official in Islamabad said. He declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

So it is possible that such information in the possession of the government is supposed to come out through official channels. This will probably impede rescue opperations. And as the neurologists say, TIME IS BRAIN, which is to say that right at this moment there are lots of live people trapped in rubble, but one way or the other that will change.

Fire Planning and Mapping Tools

Firetools2_1For those wondering if there were good mapping tools for finding out about the California fires currently blazing, the California Fire Alliance and the US Geological Survey has come through for you:

Fire Planning and Mapping Tools

The main purpose of the Fire Planning and Mapping Tools Viewer is a user friendly web site in which a person can create a map of an area, print, and download data to the User's personal computer to use with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.

Diane Duane, who sent me the link suggests Google Earth folks take a look. This certainly looks like something that could be usefully combined with existing satellite and aerial images.

You run the viewer and then click on Topanga and zoom in.  Maybe somebody more techie-savvy than I can find a way to correlate / interrelate this with Google Earth.

ALSO, Flickr user justinm has some frightening photos of what's going on in the Topanga area.

(See also rusworks' photos and edhiker's photos.)

Another possible way of integrating fire info would be the Google Maps hack John Brownlow has a Community Walk screenshot up on Flickr, of a spot in Toronto. He writes:

This is a terrifically clever little site which allows you to link Google maps to Flickr (or indeed any photo host that allows you to address images from external sites). The scripts currently crash Safari (although the latest version seems to have less problems). The developer tells me that much tighter integration with Flickr is just around the corner. I love this. Check out the StreetPhoto page.

WARNING: Community Walk crashes Safari.

NOAA's First Rita Photos Out, Plus GoogleEarth Overlay from Carnegie Mellon

NoaaritaGlobal ConnectionThe NOAA's first post-Rita photos are up:

NOAA today posted online more than 1,100 aerial images of the U.S. Gulf Coast areas in the path of Hurricane Rita. The regions photographed on Sunday covered the coastal regions of Louisiana and Texas. The aerial photography missions were conducted by the NOAA Remote Sensing Division the day after the center of Rita made landfall at approximately 3:30 a.m. EDT on the extreme southwest coast of Louisiana between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson's Bayou in Louisiana.

And Carnegie Mellon has processed them as a GoogleEarth Overlay. (For more info on how to use it, see Brent's Computer Tutorials.)

Note that the photos cover only the coastal areas of the area hardest hit.

Now, can GoogleMaps please acquire some better satellite photos of the rural coastal areas as a basis of comparison? Surely, Digital Globe has some on hand? And something more recent than the late 90s? VirtualEarth seems to have some USGS black and white images of the coastal areas that are a bit better.

(Thanks, Anne Wright of the NASA Ames Research Center.)

PS: Just so you know, so far, this is a harder problem than doing house-by-house phtographic damage assessment on NOLA. If you are trying to do this and getting frustrated, ask for help and we'll see what we can do. But this is not a solved problem yet.


  1. Brent has just finihed his how-to guide on using GoogleEarth to assess damage from Rita.
  2. Anne Wright of the Global Connection Project NASA Ames Research Center says:

Updated NOAA Rita overlays for Google Earth are now available from Images courtesy of NOAA.

This revision includes approx 2,100 NOAA images from 9/25 - 9/26, and includes links to full resolution 4k x 4k overlays, as well as subsampled overlays which may load more quickly.  The new data covers more inland areas around Port Arthur and Orange.

UPDATE 9/30: VirtualEarth now has a Rita site up.

Rita Satellite & Aerial Surveys?

Cameron_la_1[UPDATE: See NOAA's First Rita Photos Out, Plus GoogleEarth Overlay from Carnegie Mellon.]

Anyone know when and whether there will be coherent aerial and satellite images of areas hit by Rita? People have been asking me how they can check on houses damaged by Rita, but it seems we don't have a ready source of pictures yet. I've been checking NOAA, Digital Globe, VirtualEarth, etc. and haven't seen anything yet. Digital Globe's site has a message that suggests there are going to be photos, though they don't say when or what areas they'll cover.

DigitalGlobe is working hard to prepare for the landfall of Hurricane Rita, and will make every effort to maximize the collection of QuickBird Satellite Imagery over the impacted areas.

(Image of Cameron, LA from AP via CNN.)


9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others.



Caption reads Water flows through a breach in the repaired Inner Harbor Canal toward the Ninth Ward District Friday in New Orleans.

Anyone got a longitude and latitude on this? (KC approximation: Lat 29.978333240947077, Lon -90.02085221140939.) Anyone want to send me the image on a Google Earth satellite image? Or do some complicated thing like place it on the Katrina image and that on a pre-hurricane season satellite picture?

I think the breach is in the general area of the Florida Avenue Bridge and Surkote Road, as shown below. Can anyone confirm? Here's a closer shot from a screengrab from CNN streaming video:


Leveen clearly broken. The CNN reporter also mentioned another broken levee in the Chantilly (he pronounced it something like Chintilly?) Gentilly area. There are other reports of multiple breaches, but none I can find that name locations.  Here's another view of the same breach.


Above is the Google Maps satellite image of the area before the hurricanes. Below is the Digital Globe August 31st, 10AM image showing one the Industrial Canal breaches. (The bigger one is further south.) I can't tell if the new breach is in the same spot as in the 8/31 image, butit looks to me like it's not.


The New York Times provides the best explanation I've seen so far of multiple breaches, but so far all the images I've seen are of the same one. (We don't have TV reception, so I'm not watching TV.)

One break in the levee was in the lower Ninth Ward, on the east side of the canal. The storm sent e water rising so quickly that it had reached windows of houses up to three blocks east of the levee by late morning. Dozens of blocks in New Orleans's Ninth Ward were under water.

Later today, another break was found in the Upper Ninth Ward, on the west side of the levee.

Here's another shot of that breach found on the LA Times site:


ScreensnapzI'm not sure if this next photo (found on the CNN site at 6AM 9/24) is a breach or just overtopping, but it is clearly not the same spot.

UPDATE 9/24, 7:46PM: I see the Washington Post has another view of the same breach, described in the caption as a 30-yard breach on the east side of the Lower Ninth Ward:


Continue reading "9/23 Industrial Canal Breach and Possible Others." »

Relatives in Houston

Grandma_bond_houseMy closest relatives in the Houston area, my aunt and my grandmother, decline to evacuate. My grandmother was born in Galveston on Christmas Day in 1910, ten years after the big Galveston hurricane, and now lives in Splendora, north of Houston. I suppose can be expected to familiar with the effects of hurricanes. (Photo via Google Earth from my parents.)

My aunt lives in Houston itself.

UPDATE, 9/23: My sister, who just called to tell me that New Orleans was in trouble from the Rita storm surge, tells me the following sad story.

My grandmother had an older sister who is buried in Galveston, an indirect casualty of the Galveston hurricane and the one following in 1915 (a Category 4). The family, originally from Kuopio, Finland, came to Galveston to aid in post-hurricane reconstruction. My great grandfather was (I think) a stone mason. My grandmother's sister, Lila Miettinen born in about 1913 in Galveston, TX, and died in about 1915  in Galveston, TX at age 2, is said to have drank kerosene and died. (as the mother of a two-year-old I find this story hard to take.)

G17713ff938A hurricane hit Galveston August 16-17th, 1915 and wiped out their house, a modest house in the neighborhood where workmen lived. When the family was living in emergency housing Lila got into the kerosene. She died in John Sealy Hospital six weeks later.

She was buried in Galveston, but the grave is 30 ft. down because the height of the land was later raised in preparation for future hurricanes or perhaps for a road.

Also, went I was lazily looking for my own blog post on Galveston, I Googled "Galveston Cramer" and discovered to my dismay that a "Miss Bessie Cramer" is listed among the dead for the 1900 hurricane. The odds we are related? My guess is about 50-50.

SO, yes. I guess if my grandmother survided a Category 4 hurricane hitting Galveston in 1915, she can be presumed to know a bit about them.

(Photo of workers homes detroyed in the 1915 hurricane from the Galveston and Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library.)

"luxuriant blue color Earth"

For those of you who read Chinese, here is an article on the Google Earth and the Katrina aftermath in Chinese from the Xinmin Weekly by Zhao Yanyan, and I'm in it. For those who don't read Chinese, here is a very strange translation created by Google's Language tools.

Gently clicks on the mouse, the luxuriant blue color Earth starts to revolve, ever such giant Earth, now actually is all controls in the palm.
Writes a draft / the Zhao colorful swallow king is attractive (reporter)

(Wouldn't it be nice if Google's Chinese translation tools worked as well as Google Earth?)

Deploying Google Earth Toward a New Relationship with History: The Case of Hiroshima

One of the effects of having spent weeks scrutinizing aerial and satellite photos for people wanting information about their homes, their families, their pets, is that I am now longer able to look at aerial photos of damage in the same way. It has become much more personalized. I experience it as a stripping away of a twentieth century attitude of abstract detachment, an attitude that the legacy of World War II and the Cold War encouraged.

A few days ago, Earthhopper (links: blog in Japanese; Flickr account) was testing out Google Earth's newly added images of Hiroshima and discovered an odd lack of clarity in the area of the Hiroshima memorial, the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome.

To correct this oversight, Earthhopper has used the same techniques that Shawn MacBride and the Google Earth Current Events community used to superimpose images of the New Orleans levee breaks upon satellite images, but this time on Hiroshima:

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb - Devastated Land - Google Earth Overlay


Image overlay of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome, taken in 1945.
The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.

And the other one . . .


Image overlay of Hiroshima taken in 1947 by US military.
The atomic bomb hit the city on Aug 6, 1945 and killed more than 140,000 people on the day, 240,000+ listed as of now.

Each and every one of those several hundred thousand people had a name and a face and a life story. We have been encouraged to distance ourselves from this kind of information, encouraged to be overwhelmed by it. But is that just the way we are, or is it a political construct of the twentieth century? Can we get beyond it?

It seems to me that this technique has broad applications in historical photography and in helping us forge a new psychological relationship with history. Imagine these images covered with thousands of those little red Google pushpins with names, specific street addresses, with links to family photographs, personal correspondence:

And surely somewhere in the US archives are the "before" pictures taken for planning purposes.

We have the technology to remember all of those who can be documented and remember them as individuals, not just statistics. All through September, I have seen it. I have used it. Those who die in masses no longer need remain anonymous.

(See also a similar collaborative process using WW2 recognizance photos from bombing runs, also involving Google Earth and Flickr.

And futhur to the subject of the politics of war and memory, read Gavin Grant's brilliant story "Heads Down, Thumbs Up," in Sci Fiction.)

Google Earth Reveals Roman Ruins

From Nature (a magazine to which I just sold a piece, by the way): Enthusiast uses Google to reveal Roman ruins: Google Earth programme leads to remains of ancient villa.

Using satellite images from Google Maps and Google Earth, an Italian computer programmer has stumbled upon the remains of an ancient villa. Luca Mori was studying maps of the region around his town of Sorbolo, near Parma, when he noticed a prominent, oval, shaded form more than 500 metres long. It was the meander of an ancient river, visible because former watercourses absorb different amounts of moisture from the air than their surroundings do.

His eye was caught by unusual 'rectangular shadows' nearby. Curious, he analysed the image further, and concluded that the lines must represent a buried structure of human origin. Eventually, he traced out what looked like the inner courtyards of a villa.

Mori, who describes the finding on his blog, Quellí Della Bassa, contacted archaeologists, including experts at the National Archaeological Museum of Parma. They confirmed the find. At first it was thought to be a Bronze Age village, but an inspection of the site turned up ceramic pieces that indicated it was a Roman villa.

(Come on, guys. Where's the Mac version?)

Towards a public index of NOAA's Katrina Photos

NoaanolaI really need to use NOAA's aerial photos of greater New Orleans, and as I have said before, I hate the NOAA interface. Since my dream of a clickable interface for the NOAA photos has not yet come true, nor my dream of a Mac version of Google Earth, I'm setting up this page as my own personal index to  the NOAA photos, to which I will make additions as I go along.

Here's how it will work:

  1. I'll make a thumbnail image (with a larger thumbnail if you click on the small one),
  2. write a little description, and
  3. give approximate GPS coordinates if I can get them. 
  4. Time stamp information is highly desirable.

The highest priority are those areas of New Orleans that are not covered by the Digital Globe 8/31 10 AM satellite photos. This overview of the Digiatl Globe images shold give you a sense of the problem:


They don't cover enough of New Orleans and also it is hard to get information on nearly communities.

Contributions (by which I mean submissions for inclusion) are welcome and encouraged via email at kathryn.cramer at

I'm posting one now, and will post more later.

  1. 24441170 St. Charles Avenue, including the Loyola university stadium. This area is not covered by the Digital Globe 8/31 10 AM images available via Google Maps.

FEMA Needs to Tell People What It Intends for Their Homes

6039providencepsmlI had a fairly thorough look through the FEMA website, and no where could I find any mention of any plans to tell people FEMA's intentions for their homes. There are instructions for registering a claim with FEMA, but it is not clear to me what FEMA does for you once your claim is registered. Is this simply a mechanism for receiving aid money? Or does their attention to your claim involve keeping you updated on whether they plan to tear down your neighborhood? Anyone know?

Over the weekend, a reader made what seemed to me a really good suggestion, though I didn't yet understand at the time how good a suggestion it was:

Please consider contacting the USGS to have updated satellite photos made available for New Orleans citizens, their families and friends - so that the conditions of their neighborhood can be evaluated from their distant locations while awaiting permission to return home. This may take weeks. It would put many minds at ease (or make the worst known, not better, but less harsh than the wait to see it firsthand).

Make it so, Kathryn. Use what contacts and influence you have to make this idea understood as an important technical tool and its use as a social service.

This will also help FEMA recovery efforts.

There aren't enough satellite and aerial images publicly available to accomplish what he suggests. But the general idea, that the US government needs to provide people information about their homes, is a good one.

Clearly, some of the houses are a total loss and need to be torn down. On some portions of satellite images houses formerly aligned in neat rows now look like they were casually dropped and haven't been lined up yet. Those homes are gone. There is no question that they need to be replaced. But many others, some in quite deep water, may well be reparable. The question is this: How much of New Orleans does FEMA plan to restore, and how much does it plan to simply replace. And if the houses are replaced with something else, are they to be replaced for their original owners? Or will the land be taken by eminent domain and redistributed?

One thing I did find on the FEMA site was a news release detailing the FEMA time-line for federal funding of "debris removal":

State and local governments will be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency for 100 percent of Hurricane Katrina eligible debris removal costs incurred during the sixty days following President Bush’s federal disaster declaration, from August 29 through October 30th, 2005.

Examples of eligible clean-up include removal of debris from public rights-of-way to ensure safe passage and debris removal from public property to eliminate health and safety hazards.

Removing the massive debris left by Hurricane Katrina is a cooperative effort between local communities, state governments, federal governments, and state and federal agencies.

It's not clear to me whether this time-line applies (or even could be applied) to the cleanup of New Orleans. But now that Michael Brown is out of the way, presumably some plan for the future of New Orleans is coming together.

Whole neighborhoods will need to be torn down entirely. We know this. It's obvious from up there in orbit where Digital Globes satellites live. But how many neighborhoods? And who will decide? Will FEMA tell you in advance if your house is to be razed, or only after the fact? FEMA needs to make its plans public as soon as possible.

The data tying specific New Orleans addresses to GPS coordinates and aerial and satellite images exists. I've been using it all week. FEMA needs to provide us with their overlay for the map of New Orleans before they start the bulldozers. My personal recommendation to whomever is now in charge of the restoration of New Orleans is that as soon as they have a map showing what areas of the city the plan to tear down, that they release it to the public and to the media so that it can be integrated into the same tools the public has been using to check on the storm damage to their homes. Specifically, I would like to see a publicly published map that could then be integrated into the Google Maps and Google Earth interfaces. Also, FEMA should license this same technology, for use on its own website, to create an Internet site where people can type in their addresses and receive a detailed report on what FEMA plans for the area.

If FEMA goes in with the bulldozers and starts razing areas without either informing the property owners and residents, nor allowing them back in to get their possessions, there will be mass panic. I hope that whoever takes over for Michael Brown has the sense to do better than that.


Continue reading "FEMA Needs to Tell People What It Intends for Their Homes" »

Google Earth in Emulation?

Are any of you out there running Google Earth on a Mac using a PC emulator? The Google Earth site claims you can do it though it will be "slower." I really need a better way to get at the NOAA photos than through the NOAA site. But I'm afraid I would end up with just an expensive toy.

Is anyone out there doing it? How well does it work?

What about a Toxics Map?


have you found a site that would have the results of the toxic water in New Orleans.  My husband has been down there since last Tuesday trying to get the MCI telephone sites up and running.  Passed the worrying stage about the gun shots around him but now am worried about the toxic water problem and long term effects.

An extant toxics map sounds to me a bit ahead of the data we have right now by a good bit. But it is something that should exist, even if it doesn't. I have been talking about the need for information on the water depths and water movement with the tides and other factors,  and still haven't come up with a solution for that yet, but her question is an important one. Anyone know if there have been surveys of toxics. I recall that preliminary looks seemed to suggest that the toxics problem was not as bad as it might be, but that could have changed and might have been wrong in the first place. What can be done to get this information together?

(Image of chemical sheen on the water courtesy of Shawn McBride. I think it's a NOAA image acquired through Google Earth with overlays; I gather it's a search he did for someone who enquiring about their house.)

Also, if you can load a really large image, have a look at this NOAA image, just to get the scale. I'm trying to find someone's house on an area of the city not covered by the Digital Globe images, and I'm a little lost, because NOAA doesn't preserve orientation in its interface. But the sheen, oh my God . . .



Can I Go Back to Get My Stuff?

I'm back from my Labor Day weekend travels through Upstate New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and am  going through my inbox. I wasn't completely offline, but my internet access was fairly limited while I was out.

Here's New Orleans resident, whose house looks OK to me on the satellite photo:

If the neighborhood appears OK, why can't we just get some things? Is it the roads? I wouldn't stay. But all I have are the clothes on my back.

On the face of it, this doesn't seem like a very good idea. I'm not sure it's even legal, though last night in the 10 minutes of CNN TV coverage I have actually watched, I saw this gal go in with Christian Amanpour, but it may take her press credentials to get you in. (Question to those in the know: Is it legal or even possible to get in? CNN reports that people from Jefferson Parish were allowed back in today. How to interpret that in general is less clear.)

My reader escaped with her life. Why risk it for stuff? (My husband is a book collector. I understand in some detail why someone might want to go back for stuff, even in a dangerous situation.) And the return under these circumstances might be more traumatic than losing all her stuff. I hate to direct her to an agency whose head, several days back, should have been stripped naked except for a large name tag, and lowered slowly through the roof of the Superdome at its worst, but it is probably a better idea to apply to FEMA  for aid. They now have a web page for aid applications at their Individual Assistance Center:

If you have been affected by a disaster you may be eligible for federal assistance. Please select one of two options below: Register for Assistance or Review your Application. For disaster assistance information you may want to read the Applicant Guide, view information about Federally Declared Disasters by Calendar Year, or review support from other available Agencies.             

They also have a phone number for those without computers hooked up to the Internet:

Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362)                   
The speech or hearing impaired may call (TTY) 1-800-462-7585

What they have to offer those without either Internet access or phone service is not so clear.

And what will come of an application isn't clear. See this August 30th Miami Herald article for details: Skittish FEMA may not assist individuals:

FEMA is giving aid to local governments, but has yet to decide on helping individual storm victims. One reason: criticism that it was overly generous last year.

Presumably they have backed off from the position described in the Miami Herald, but I would love to hear about the results of such applications.

MEANWHILE, CNN reports that "the" levee break has been patched. I presume they mean the biggest levee break.

Welcome, New York Times Readers

This morning's New York Times has a write-up on a few of us who tried to help people get the information they needed about the state of the homes in the area where Katrina hit hardest:

For Victims, News About Home Can Come From Strangers Online

UPDATE: Welcome also to readers arriving from:

For those new to blogs, here are shortcuts to information about our collaborative maps project:

First of all, my Katrina archive contains all blog posts related to Katrina. The archive page is updated each time I make a new Katrina post, so it would be the best place to bookmark.  On the other hand, it contains many images, so on a dial-up connection it would be slow to load. Also, separately, I have an online album of Katrina map images, Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.

As of now, my individual Katrina posts related to maps are:

  1. New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After
  2. not too far from filling in the bowl
  3. NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison
  4. Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context
  5. DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up
  6. How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water
  7. How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System
  8. Escape Routes for Hurricane Victims
  9. Welcome, Forbes and BBC Readers
  10. Associated Press & Digital Globe Make Zoomable New Orleans Satellite Map Available
    Meanwhile, New Orleans Burns
  11. New Orleans: Notes from My Parents

Also, my sister, Karen Cramer Shea, has been guest-blogging for me while I was away over the weekend. Her posts are:

  1. Lost in Katrina
  2. Rebuilding New Orleans

I think this is only the second time I've made the New York Times. The first time was in October of 1987: My anthology The Architecture of Fear, comprised of architectural horror stories, was featured on the front page of the Home section for Halloween.

PS: And may I also recommend the high quality Katrina discussion and analysis at Making Light, BoingBoing, & Amygdala.

Welcome, Forbes and BBC Readers

The Forbes web site has published a rather good article on the various web efforts to use Google Earth and Google Maps to provide more information about the media's disaster images. I am quoted extensively. And just a moment ago, I noticed that the BBC has published a similar, also quite good, article along the same lines.

For those new to blogs, here are shortcuts to information about our collaborative maps project:

First of all, my Katrina archive contains all blog posts related to Katrina. The archive page is updated each time I make a new Katrina post, so it would be the best place to bookmark.  On the other hand, it contains many images, so on a dial-up connection it would be slow to load. Also, separately, I have an online album of Katrina map images, Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.

As of now, my individual Katrina posts related to maps are:

  1. New Orleans Levee Break(s) Before and After
  2. not too far from filling in the bowl
  3. NASA's First Katrina Before and After Comparison
  4. Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context
  5. DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up
  6. How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water
  7. How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System
  8. Escape Routes for Hurricane Victims

Continue reading "Welcome, Forbes and BBC Readers" »

How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System

126353main_pia04175516I've been thinking about this all day, and I have a few ideas, some of which I'm a bit too tired to try. But here is the problem. The question is not whether grandma's wedding pictures are getting ruined. The question for many people writing to me is whether their stranded relatives are dead, or at least the nature of their chances of survival. I am reminded of a 9/11 account we published in the 9/11 special supplement to the New York Review of Science Fiction. The husband of a friend, who worked on the WTC's 22nd floor, walked around looking for someone who could answer questions. An official asked, "What kind of questions?" My friend's husband replied, "Like whether my wife is dead." The information about depths and currents is absolutely crucial to those who might still have a relative trapped.

So here is a case in point. I have someone writing from Kosovo who works for the UN saying:

Can you help me? I have a brother-in-law who is trying to stay in a warehouse two blocks from the River in New Orleans. I've lost contact with him by telephone and am trying to get an idea of the water level around his building, and thus how dangerous his situation is.

It's a white two-story warehouse occupying the full block between Royal and Chartres Streets (on the north and south), and Press and Mantegut Strrets (on the west and east; address 2916 Royal St, zipcode 70117-7362).

Its an almost square building with the northeast corner cut out for a small parking lot. The way to locate it on a photograph is that it's on the northside of the Mississippi at the last big bend in the River before it leaves New Orleans, between Mandeville and Louisa Street Wharfs. You'll see a railroad track that runs along the river by Mandeville Street Wharf and then turns inland; the warehouse is a block inland next to the track.

Well that's probably too much information. But if you can get any idea from scanning photographs as to how much water is around the building, it will be very helpful to us in make decisions about what action to take. (I'm in Eastern Europe at the moment and doing what I can from the internet and telephone contacts, but I've gone about as far as I can for now.)

Lets help her. This seems like a case in which someone might potentially be alive, is known to have been at that location, and so conceivably might be rescued. First of all, here is the Google Maps neighborhood view.


On the face of it, things are not looking too good, since it's within the FEMA designated flood area. But how deep is the water? This is a two-story warehouse. Depth matters. It really matters.

Now a look to see what DigitalGlobe thinks. The results are not too bad. DigitalGlobe's image suggests that the building was not flooded at the point where their picture was taken:


Here is the DigitalGlobe shot from further away:


Note that the stain of flooding starts a block away. Water levels apparently vary with the tides and other factors, so it may be flooded at this moment, but it is crucially important that it is in an area where the water is not very deep, if there is any.

How can we make this better? Ideas, please.

A further example: Mike Moore asks in the comments of the previous post,

Flooding status at 6300 Paris Avenue
In Lake Terrace
Corner of Paris and Frankfort Thanks Mike

Here's his visual answer, a screenshot composited from Google Maps & a DigitalGlobe shot:


Definitely flooded, but what does that mean? Four feet? Or 20? If it was 4 yesterday when the picture was taken, is it 20 today at high tide?

Continue reading "How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water, Part 2: We Really Need to Integrate Topo Maps and Known Water Depths into the System" »

How to Find Out if Your New Orleans House Is Under Water

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/7: There is now a clickable depth map for New Orleans at

Here is my discussion of how to use it in combination with Google Maps to check out your house. Also, my Katrina album has some some more sample images. Furtehr UPDATE: the depth map is now searchable by address.

IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/17: VirtualEarth's Katrina Flyover  has excellent aerial photos searchable by street address. The interface does not work on all browsers. If you have trouble, see my post describing a workaround.

Another IMPORTANT UPDATE, 9/17: Much more detailed instructions for using Google Earth to check on your house are posted HERE.

The best way to check if a New Orleans address is under water is by using Google Earth and the techniques and overlays created by the Google Earth Current Events Community.  Since GE doesn't have their Mac version out yet, I myself can't do it that way.

UPDATE: Here are the promised Google Earth instructions from our hero Shawn:

1) Install Google Earth
2) Click the NOAA Overlay Link from Google Earth Community BBS
a) Mississippi Coast -
i) Click "Open This Placemark"
ii) Either open file or save to disk and double click.
c) Check the Current Events Board for many more overlays of specific areas.
3) Once overlay is open in Google Earth, Enter your full address in the search field in the upper left corner.   That will center the view on your address.


If you can't or don't want to do it that way, here is a shot-cut.

Step 1: Go to Google Maps and enter the address. Click on the button that says "Hybrid" on the upper right. You will get an image with a speech ballon pointing to a thumbtack showing the location of the address on the satellite photo.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Bless their hearts, Google Maps has added a "KATRINA" button to New Orleans areas searchs, so they have automated some of the process I descibe here! Yee haw!]

Step 2: Click up and down the vertical ladder-like bar to see the image at various scales until you feel you can find the place on a satellite image.

Step 3: Compare your image to this superimposition of the FEMA flood map on a New Orleans satellite photo, created by the Google Earth Current Events Community. Here is a small version. Click on it for a much bigger picture.


If the address you are checking is fairly centrally located, you can also check your address image against the DigitalGlobe satellite picture of the flooding.

I hope to post some good Google Earth instructions later. I'll be out for several hours, so if you have some, post 'em in the comments until I get back.

OR PERHAPS I'VE BEEN TO OPTIMISTIC: While I was out driving around Pleasantville a little while ago, a reporter on NPR described all of New Orleans as being flooded. Perhaps she was being hyperbolic. But the more important question for those who need to know about specific addresses in New Orleans may be how deep the water and how swift the current; this all combined with information about the rise and fall of the tides.

BY THE WAY: If you get ahold of Before and After pictures of your house, BE SURE TO KEEP COPIES so you can submit them with your homeowners insurance claims, applications for FEMA aid, and other such. It seems to me that providing physical evidence specific to your address would be likely to expedite claims processing.

DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up

Digitalglobal17thDigitalGlobe has a fine gallery of extremely detailed Katrina satellite photos up, and Shawn points out via email that the busy folks in the Google Earth Current Events Community have already figured out how to used them in Overlays, so you can, for example, superimpose a street grid, to have a good look at what happened to your house or that favorite spot (at least, as of yesterday).

Shawn showed me some extremely useful New Orleans big picture Before and After shots. Unfortunately, the DigitalGlobe usage agreement specifically prohibits publication of altered images without their consent. So I can't show you, but if you can run Google Earth, the overlays these people have come up with should allow you to look up specific places fairly easily. Shawn writes:

DigitalGlobe put out new Sat images a couple hours ago, now a lot people people biting their fingers can look up where they want in GE and see the flooding over a lot of NOLA.

And here's the Overlay as made by GE User Equitus from this forum post:


For a sense of the resolution, note that the big 17th Street levee break is clearly visible toward the bottom right of the sample DigitalGlobe image to the left.

NOTE TO THE FOLKS AT GOOGLE EARTH: Finish your Macintosh version! People need it.

MEANWHILE, the September 1st New York Times editorial begins

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

I confess I have been paying almost no attention to Bush's behavior at all. In his "management style," his minions will tell him when he's needed and he doesn't rise to occasions until they do. So I expected very little.

But what has happened to New Orleans seems to me to be rather like a stroke. There is a saying about strokes, TIME IS BRAIN: The longer treatment takes, the more brain damage occurs. Never mind that a "mandatory" evacuation should have provided a plan for the poor to get out, the New Orleans second-round evacuation currently in progress needed to start a lot earlier. The longer it takes, the less infrastrcture there is to do it with. The longer it takes, the more people roast, unrescued, trapped in their attics, or float away when the water gets above the roof, or try to make a break for it and drown.

BUSH UPDATE: Have received scathing reviews for his speech yesterday, Bush tries to do better on Good Morning America this morning, claiming, I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees. See Echidne for further details. I don't have the stomach for it this morning. (Via atrios.)

Continue reading "DigitalGlobe's New Orleans Before and After Images Are Up" »

Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context


This is the Google Earth superimposition of this photo I posted yesterday, showing water flowing out of a neighborhood, over the levee at Surekote Rd. and into the canal. (In case you're wondering, those little rectangles are the rooves of houses. The big red rectangles are city blocks.) The Google Earth group working on this has created a number of such superimpositions. I asked Shawn if he could please do the Surekote picture for me. Thanks Shawn.

UPDATE: I've now got an album up of this kind of image: Katrina Floods New Orleans, 2005.

A FURTHER TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCE for the Google Earth users: Shawn writes, via email

Check this one out...

It's a google maps hack, allowing users to add markers with information on the area.

In a fastmoving disaster situation, this looks to be especially useful.

FINALLY (at 11:03 PM), I'm tired and want to go to bed. But Xeni's readers have provided her with more links  over at Boingboing. Goodnight.

Continue reading "Google Earth Helps Place the Flow from a New Orleans Neighborhood into the Canal in Context" »

not too far from filling in the bowl

Helicopter_1Where to begin? How are they going to evacuate the people still in New Orleans? (Transporter beams? Scottie, where are you when we need you? In military helicopters? The caption to the Times-Picayune photo to the left reads, Acadian Ambulance workers rush two small children from a Louisiana National Guard helicopter as they were evacuated from the Superdome. Story problem: there are 20,000 people in the stadium. Oh, never mind.) The current plan for evacuating the stadium, according to an MSNBC story from a few minutes ago, seems to be this:

With the city still flooding after levees failed, officials on Wednesday made plans to bus the 25,000 evacuees at the Superdome and other shelters to Houston's Astrodome. . . .

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said everyone still in the city, now huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers, needs to leave. She said she wanted the Superdome evacuated within two days. . . .

Houston officials later said those evacuees would be sent via 475 buses to the city's Astrodome. The stadium's schedule was cleared through December to make it available.

How many are there left? Let's see: a city of 1.3 million people; 1 million flee. How many remain? Or let's say the city was 90% evacuated. How many remain? And how will they know when they've got them all?

And about those broken levees: How are they going to fix them with so much water rushng through? I spent last week at the beach, so every time I think about plans I heard about involving sand, I keep thinking of a small child trying to fix a damaged castle in the face of the rising tide. I gather there is some new plan involving lots of cement blocks that are on trucks somewhere enroute.

And what if the levees can't be fixed? Was that perhaps the thought behind Governor Blanco's remark that some of those taking refuge in and now trapped in the stadium "do not have any regard for others”? That perhaps it would be okay if only the Good were saved?

Yesterday, some of us noticed that in some photos water seemed, incomprehensibly, to be flowing out of a neighborhood and into the canal. The explanation, which I came across this morning is chilling. If you can stand it, read the whole thing:

Flooding will only get worse by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune staff writer

The lake is normally 1 foot above sea level, while the city of New Orleans is an average of 6 feet below sea level. But a combination of storm surge and rainfall from Katrina have raised the lake's surface to 6 feet above sea level, or more.

All of that water moving from the lake has found several holes in the lake's banks - all pouring into New Orleans. Water that crossed St. Charles Parish in an area where the lakefront levee has not yet been completed, and that backed up from the lake in Jefferson Parish canals, is funneling into Kenner and Metairie.

A 500-yard and growing breach in the eastern wall of the 17th Street Canal separating New Orleans from Metairie is pouring hundreds of thousands of gallons of lake water per second into the New Orleans area. Water also is flowing through two more levee breaches along the Industrial Canal, which created a Hurricane Betsy-on-steroids flood in the Lower 9th Ward on Monday that is now spreading south into the French Quarter and other parts of the city.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned Tuesday evening that an attempt to plug the holes in the 17th Street Canal had failed, and the floodwaters were expected to continue to rise rapidly throughout the night. Eventually, Nagin said, the water could reach as high as 3 feet above sea level, meaning it could rise to 12 to 15 feet high in some parts of the city.

Louisiana State University Hurricane Center researcher Ivor van Heerden warned that Nagin's estimates could be too low because the lake water won't fall quickly during the next few days.

And then there's this bit from another Time-Picayune story:

With solid water from the lake to the French Quarter, the inundation and depopulation of an entire American city was at hand.

"Truth to tell, we're not to far from filling in the bowl," said Terry Ebbert, the city's director of homeland security. The waters were still rising at 3 inches per hour, and eventually could move close to the French Quarter levee.

In the media hype leading up to landfall, there was the illusion that other than those performing essential functions, anyone else left in New Orleans was either tucked away in the stadium or was a French Quarter drunkard. The quantity of media reports of people needing to be rescued from their houses tells a different story. Do they even know how many people stayed behind?

MEANWHILE, I see from earthhopper's photogallery on Flicker that Shawn's Google Earth initiative is yeilding fruit (and this presumably overnight):


The second one seemed to be attributed to "Mickey" on the Google Hacks site. I don't have any attribution for the other one. I would also appreciate descriptive details from those who have them.

UPDATE: Shawn tells me a group attribution for a group of about nine Google Earth users is in order. (I presume the poster, dOLLYLLAMA also deserves credit.)

New Orleans-Mississippi-Flood/Damage Compilation

New Orleans Flood Damage
~A collection of overlays, placemarks and photos, by various contributors.

~Check video link

thanks:Modest baggydog Shawn_McBride drew10dall vyruss equitus jay_babin,johnmora,mwarren,reuters,AP
If i forgot to mention please forgive, I wanted to get this out fast.


Continue reading "not too far from filling in the bowl" »